Thanks to atenyotkin for #3!
On Thursday, December 4, 2003, I had a telephone interview with the level design team at Monolith Productions. While I didn't have the experience that they were looking for, they were very helpful in offering advice on how best to get into the game industry as a level designer. I thought I would compile the tips they gave me in a little post here to help out any hopefuls.
#1 - MAKE SINGLE PLAYER MAPS.
If you want a job as a level designer, you need to have a lot of experience making single player maps. They more or less give two shits about multiplayer mapping. Here is a list of things that you should keep in mind while you are making your mapping portfolio:
A - It doesn't matter what engine you use. It doesn't have to be the latest greatest technology out there. They said using Half-Life is perfect because it is popular software, and everyone is familiar with it. Also, it has a lot of flexibility for creating exciting single player levels.
B - Don't worry about custom content. They said it's almost better if you use the stock dialog, characters, and textures, because it shows how creative you can be with a limited toolset. Use old dialog in interesting new ways, use old textures on new architecture, etc etc.
C - Create the core of your maps first. They said a good way to develop your single player maps is to plot out the basic architecture and objectives and bad guys. Then compile and send off to people who will give you good, serious, critical feedback. Once you have a good solid core, then start adding the flashy stuff - scripted sequences, special effects, more architectural detail, etc.
D - Create a 3-map story arc. It doesn't have to be a complex or utterly brand new story, but it should be interesting, and the map's layout should correspond to the atmosphere and objectives that you are trying to convey. The mini-adventure should stretch across 3 maps, at least; I would personally recommend possibly having to backtrack and open up new areas that you can only access from the old ones.
E - Spend an assload of time perfecting the maps. The guy I talked to said he would expect the levels to look like you spent about 100 hours on each one!!! THAT IS A LOT OF TIME. These guys are looking for attention to detail, polishing, high levels of interactivity, and above all good gameplay. If you were dedicated you should be able to create a map arc like this in about 3 months, which really isn't that long. You just have to keep at it, and keep your standards high.
#2 - BE COOL.
A lot of game companies will request an initial phone interview. This is basically to check up on your mapping experience (if you completed #1 above you will be all set on that mark!) and see what your personality is like. It is very important to be friendly and outgoing, but also fairly humble. If the first thing out of your mouth during the interview is "You assholes better hire me right this minute so I can fix everything that you've been doing wrong for the last 10 successful years" they are basically going to hang up on you, no matter how good your mapping portfolio is. BE COOL. Be excited about the job, and sell yourself, but do NOT be arrogant. They will shoot your ass down.
#3 - VARIETY OF EXPERIENCE
Developers use many different tools to create levels. It would be to your advantage to be familiar with as many of them as possible! The benefits are three-fold:
A - Chances are you will be familiar with the tools your target studio is using, which will be a big help towards getting hired (you won't need much training).
B - The process of learning to use multiple design environments will allow you to concentrate on learning how to make good levels period, instead of learning how to (for example) use Hammer or QRadiant at an uber-professional level.
C - You will get lots of practice in learning your way around new editors and modelers, and thus become better at it, shortening whatever training time you might need to use the target studio's software.
That's all for now!! As I garner more advice from failed interviews I will be sure to add it on here. Hopefully this helps somebody out there!